Teddy bears are among the most cuddled and beloved of childhood companions, but they are relatively new in the world of toys. The story of their U.S. origins is probably the most famous. When President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt failed to make a kill on a hunting trip in November of 1902, his companions caught a bear cub and tied it to a tree to give him an easy target. The President would not fire. Instead, he declared, "Spare the bear! I will not shoot a tethered animal."

Washington Post artist Clifford K. Berryman immortalized the scene when he drew it in a political cartoon for the paper called "Drawing the Line in Mississippi." That month, Brooklyn store owners Morris and Rose Michtom made a stuffed bear doll, called "Teddy's Bear," and placed it in their display window with the cartoon. The bear was a sensation, prompting the Michtoms to found the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company.

Meanwhile, around the same time in Germany, Richard Steiff created a soft toy bear for his aunt, Margarete Steiff, who owned a big toy factory. Steiff's idea for the bear, called a Bar 55PB, came from his drawings of the animals at the Stuttgart Zoo. An American wholesaler, George Borgfeldt, discovered it at the Leipzig Toy Fair in 1903, and promptly ordered 3,000 of them. By World War I, Steiff had sold millions of these toys in the United States, Germany, and England.

Steiff bears made between 1903 and 1905 are the most-sought after. They feature hump backs, long snouts, long arms with curved paws, and big tapered feet—after 1905, the trademark Steiff button was sewn into their ears. The earliest Ideal teddy bears, which are also highly valued, look very different; they have triangular faces, chubby bodies, and long straight limbs.

The heyday of teddy bears was between 1906 and 1908, during Roosevelt's second term. Along with regular bears, manufacturers produced novelty models, like the 1907 Laughing Roosevelt Bear by the Columbia Teddy Bear Company, which featured the president's large teeth. The 1917 Patriotic Bear, made during World War I, was red, white, and blue and had electric light bulbs for eyes.

Before World War II, many new teddy-bear makers got their start. In Germany, Bing made mechanical bears while Schuco focused on miniature bears. Hermann bears from this period are also highly regarded. In Great Britain, Dean's started making bear toys in 1915, while Merrythought got into the business in 1930. J.K. Farnell made the original "Winnie the Pooh" bought for Christopher Robin in 1921.

Other early-century teddy-bear makers include Harwin & Co., Chad Valley, William J. Terry and Chiltern in England; Knickerbocker, Bruin, Aetna, and Gund in the United States; and...

After the war, the U.S. market was overwhelmed with cheap plush toys from Asian factories. By the end of the '60s, the traditional teddy bear seemed to be on the verge of extinction. But when teddy bear collector Peter Bull published his 1969 book on his obsession, interest in old-fashioned bears surged. Christie's hosted the first auction devoted to antique and vintage teddy bears in 1985, the same year the Teddy Bear Artists Guild was founded in the United States.

Thanks to the interest in old-fashioned teddy bears, there are a lot of deliberate fakes on the market. They often incorporate elements of the old teddy bears, including long arms, back humps, and straw stuffing, but in the wrong combinations, and appear suspiciously dirty. Knowing the features of antique bears can help you identify the fakes.

For example, vintage teddy bears were most often made out of wool mohair. Silk plush bears were introduced around 1930, but cotton plush wasn't used until after World War II and synthetics didn’t appear until the 1950s. The earliest bears have boot-button eyes. In the 1920s, glass eyes became the most common, while in the 1950s eyes were made of plastic. Each manufacturer had its own unique nose stitching—early noses were stitched out of woven silk.

The oldest antique teddy bears are hard-stuffed with excelsior, also known as wood wool. If a vintage bear is lightweight, it was probably stuffed with fibers from the kapok tree. Bears filled with foam are newer. As for the paws, the ones on vintage bears had pads made of felt or cotton, although the cotton would have worn out and been replaced by now. Velvet and rexine (a fake leather) were also used for paw pads starting in the late 1930s.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



This densely packed index of antique and vintage dolls claims to offer over 10,000 images of dolls from the 1800s … [read review or visit site]

National Carousel Association

National Carousel Association

Since 1973, the National Carousel Association has been dedicated to preserving and restoring carousels and carousel… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Rhonda Wilson's collection of 1950s dolls, organized by name (Ginny and friends, Littlest Angel and friends, etc.) … [read review or visit site]

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylee's extensive collection of vintage dolls from the 1930s to 90s. Click the balloons to browse. Though Kaylee s… [read review or visit site]

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare Antique Steiff Soldier Felt Doll With Ff Button, C. 1909-1918 / Teddy BearLarge Old Vintage Antique Chiltern Hugmee Pale Straw Mohair Teddy Bear 1930s 21"Small Unusual Antique Vintage Mohair Teddy Bear 9"Early American Mohair Teddy Bear C1910 With Cutest Face! No Reserve! Large Old Vintage Antique 24" Chad Valley Aerolite Button Mohair Teddy Bear 1920Antique Mohair Shoe Button Eye Teddy Bear Doll W/ Celluloid FaceRare Antique American Ideal Teddy Bear C1905 In Old Steiff Sweater–no Reserve!Rare Size Antique Farnell Wwi Soldier Mascot Small Teddy Bear, 8 1/2"Vintage Schuco 3.5” Two-face Janus Teddy Bear W MohairAdorable Charlie Bears 'jools' Brown 10" Teddy Bear With Button Charms - 067 D17Old Antique Well Loved Vintage French Bulldog Bully Soft Toy Teddy Bear Antique Vintage Jointed Teddy Bear 13" - Silly Face !!Dany Baren 'brusius' Teddy Bear Witney 21" Chocolate Mohair Artist Teddy BearAdorable Early American Mohair Antique Teddy Bear C1907—no Reserve!Rare Antique Farnell Pink Teddy Bear Antique 17" Teddy Bear Jointed Glass Eyes Mohair Steiff ? Straw Golden Caramel Dany Baren 'friedrich' Teddy Bear Witney Exc Cinnamon Mohair Artist Teddy BearAntique 1930s 14" Chad Valley Teddy BearGreat Antique American Mohair Teddy Bear Sweet & Slouchy C1908—no Reserve!Antique German Porcelain Fairing Teddy Bear Phonograph Figurine Dish ExcellentVintage 24” Mohair Jointed Teddy Bear . Glass Eye, Straw,hump On Back.Antique Plush Straw Stuffed Glass Eye Teddy Bear GrowlerAntique Vintage 28” Mohair Jointed Teddy Bear . Glass Eye, Hump On BackConradi Creations ‘phoebe Barford’ By Karin Conradi Mohair Artist Teddy Bear5 Inch Antique Miniature Jointed Teddy BearMuffy Vanderbear Teddy Bear Lot 0f 10 Dresses, Clothes & Accessories - Orig PkgsLarge Vintage Black Terrier Type Dog Soft Toy / Teddy BearVintage German Clemens Spieltiere Jointed 20" Teddy Bear Growler Antique Mohair Teddy Bear Old Jointed German Mohair Steiff Bing Shoe Button EyeOld Antique Vintage Pied French Bulldog Bully Soft Toy Teddy Bear Antique Steiff Mohair Straw Miniature Jointed Teddy Bear With Button In Ear Vintage 1902-1982 Steiff 12" Silver Gray Teddy Bear In Original BoxAntique Vintage Old Fully Jointed 15" Mohair Teddy Bear Brass ButtonCharming German Artist Blue Mohair Jointed Teddy Bear DollSteiff Mohair White 1921 Replica Teddy Bear, Limited Edition.Miniature Steiff BearAntique American? Steiff ? Mohair Teddy Bear 12"Auth Gucci Gg Logo Pattern Canvas Teddy Bear Dark Brown (es455)Vintage Brown Jointed Steiff 7 In Teddy Bear With Striped OverallsAntique Wood Wool 14" Teddy Bear, Poor ConditionSteiff 150th Anniversary Steinway 12in. Black Steiff Teddy BearMiniature Dollhouse Framed Painting "teddy Bear Love" Child,vintage,by K.manuelHandmade Antique German Gold Teddy Bear With Glass Bulb Eyes (21")Steiff BearMary Holstad Teddy Bear - Cat - Awsome!Steiff Teddy Bear PandaSteiff 14" Original White Mohair Teddy Bear. Ean 0203/36, Made In West GermanyVintage Jointed Orange Teddy Bear With Glass Eyes & Hump 14" Mohair Long Arms2 1/2 Inch Antique Miniature Jointed Teddy BearVtg Jointed Teddy Bear Steiff 9" Caramel Brown Austria Knopf Im Ohr MwTeddy Bear Artist Susan Arnot "laurel" Under The Apple Tree 14" Soft Fur Id Under The Apple Tree Teddy Bear - Mohair - 199517" Shea Bruins Jointed Mohair Teddy Bear Nicholas Rita Shea-steed Connecticut1905 Replica Steiff Bear On Wheels Museum Collection 0085/12Mohair Teddy BearSteiff Light Tan Jointed Teddy Bear West Germany 0201/41 15"Brand New Big Stuffed Plush Teddy Bear Soft Doll Toy S0401-pink-80cm 31inchBearington Collection Strawberry Patch Teddy Bear Plush & Basket Stuffed AnimalHermann Limited Edition Teddy Bear Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Musical 21" Antique Mohair Jointed Teddy Bear